Aiming high - How to reach the top

It came sooner than my most optimistic dream could ever have imagined. The call to confirm my appointment as Managing Director. It left me feeling physically sick. Is this really happening? Is this a sick joke?
I feel too young, too inexperienced, too nerdy for this, yet if I look back at my 15 year career it, surprisingly, ticks all the boxes of what my new employer needs for the strategic leadership of his business, and I'm honored to take on the challenge.
But enough of me patting myself on the back, this is about how it can be done, how did I get from that scared, nerdy, naïve, pimple faced developer to MD. Let me show you:
Grit and Determination
Failure is not an option. Its merely a set back and a lesson for the next attempt.
The right colleagues

Through the years I've worked with a few special people. The type of guys who has that magic. And I spent every minute absorbing that magic, learning , whether its technical ability, how they manage people, or how they motivate themselves, I've learnt as much as I could from them.

Find a mentor

In addition to the above, at every new employer I identified a mentor from the senior staff whom I felt I could trust, and build a relationship with this person. In fact, I never took a job where I felt the person I reported to could not be a mentor to me.

Have coffee with the guy at the top

In a small company this is probably a daily thing, but at large corporates, you may feel you are just a number. In one such case, I asked my mentor/manager if the company would pay for my MBA. He said no, its not related to my development work. So I carefully typed up an email, taking care not to ignore the decision made by my manager or to offend him, and sent it to the CEO of the very large multinational corporate I was working for, asking his opinion on the relevance of an MBA. 3 days later I was having coffee with him in his corner office. He is a man just like you and me, with dreams just like you and me, and so he understood why I asked these questions.


Never stop learning. I was not able to study after school, but did so part time. For 10 years, through meeting and marrying my wife, and 2 kids, I persisted and finally completed my BSc part time. At one point my manager said I was wasting my time. I wasn't. I was invited for an interview for theMD position referred to above based purely on the fact that I had completed my BSc part time.

Know your weaknesses

4 years ago I was privileged to be sent for a formal and professional psychometric evaluation by my employer, with follow up sessions on the results (you can do these online for free). It pointed out my strengths, leadership type, etc., but it also pointed out my weaknesses, and I did not hesitate to focus on these and investigate how to get rid of them or improve them. In that feedback session I was asked where do I see my limit in terms of the corporate structure, and I said a want to be able to go all the way to the top. 4 years later it happened.

How do others perceive you

YOU are responsible for other's perceptions of you. Perceptions make or break you, so be vigilant in understanding how others see you, and how you can steer those perceptions to be positive. Working hard and delivering results is an effective way of achieving positive perceptions, but taking time to have a casual chat with every member of your team, colleagues, subordinates and seniors, will go a long way to create positive perceptions out there. In other words, build relationships.

What is appropriate

The problem with positive perceptions are that they are easily destroyed by a single careless moment. One example is social media. Inviting colleagues to Facebook or Twitter seems like a good way to build trust, but then a single rant on a bad day, a wrong photo at the wrong time, any of those, can impact their perception of you.

Reality check

While I aimed high, ridiculously high at some point, I had to take stock repeatedly of what my capabilities currently allow, and to live in the here and now. The reality is that only a small percentage make it to the top, and one has to be content with that UNTILL the next opportunity comes along.

Enable others

Not only does it bring satisfaction to mentor others, but it in return teaches you how to work with people. Take time to mentor/teach and inspire/motivate those around you.

The bottom line

Its about making money. Your career, your dreams, come second to your employer's right to make money. Advancing your career at the expense of others will quickly catch up with you, and become a negative perception about you.

Best of luck with your dreams. Work hard, understand what you need to do to get there, then get going....


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